Living as a single income family is something rare these days. The way the world is going, it’s not looking very friendly for families trying to find ways how to live on one income. But, even with the costs of living always on the rise, living on one income IS possible.
When my husband and I decided we would make the switch to a single income family, we had quite the learning curve over the next few months.
First, we had to learn how to live on one income – we quickly learned it wasn’t as simple as me quitting my job. If we didn’t want to go broke, there was a lot more planning that needed to be involved.
It took us a few months to get the hang of things, but we’ve been doing it for over two years now, with several moves, building a house, AND having kids under our belt, I can confidently say that becoming a single income family, though it isn’t always easy, was – and is – more than worth it.
Whatever your reason for wanting to learn how to live on one income, there are several vital changes you can make in your life to help make this dream a reality.
How to live on one income
These 13 different things are exactly what my husband and I did when we became a single income family, and what we continue to do to make living on one income feasible.
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This is likely the most important step of them all – because if you have no budget, you have no way of knowing where all your money is going.
(Many people don’t make budgets because they live on incomes that vary from month to month and believe it’s impossible to budget when you don’t know how much you’re going to make. However, budgeting a varying income is easy, and we used this to learn how.)
When you use this you won’t just be learning how to create a budget (on a fixed or variable income), but you’ll also be learning how to treat your money so that you control it, rather than it controlling you.
It’s important to remember that merely making a budget isn’t going to do you any good – you need to ensure you FOLLOW that budget, to a T. For that to work, you need to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page with your finances. It won’t work if you’re 100% ready to create and follow a budget, but your spouse still wants to spend money on everything and anything.
The first step to creating a budget is learning WHY having a budget is so important.
If you and your spouse aren’t on the same page with budgeting, grab a copy of this and go over it together.
2. Cut the cable
Cutting cable is something you can do that will give you INSTANT results. As soon as you get rid of that cable bill, the very next month you’ll notice you have an extra $60 – $80 (or more) a month.
This extra money could now be put towards something like paying off debt or growing your emergency fund.
If you can’t bear the thought of getting rid of cable, challenge yourself to do it for a month, then reassess – but I’m sure you’ll be sold on having no cable after the month’s end.
If you love watching TV, you can substitute your cable for something much cheaper, that still provides you the ability to watch movies and TV shows, like Netflix or Amazon Prime (you can sign up for a free trial of the Amazon Prime membership here).
3. Meal plan (use this if you don’t have time to meal plan)
Starting to meal plan was the biggest thing that helped us see the quickest growth in our savings when we went down from two incomes to one.
By simply starting to plan our meals and grocery shop knowing exactly what I needed and exactly what I didn’t, I was able to cut my husband’s and my grocery bill down by $700 every month.
What would you do if you had an extra $700/month?
I had a hard time learning how to meal plan, and it took me several months of trying and failing before I got the hang of it.
I was bound and determined to figure out meal planning on my own. If I would have gotten this when I was getting started I would have saved hundreds of more dollars over the months. (Now I use it and it never fails to bring us savings & deliver delicious meals.)
Even if meal planning doesn’t sound like something you would want to do, if you’re trying to live on one income, lowering your grocery bill is a GREAT place to start.
4. Do a spending freeze
A spending freeze is exactly what it sounds like – a set amount of time in which you don’t spend any money outside the necessities.
What are the necessities?
Your necessities would be things like your rent/mortgage, the utility bill, groceries, gas, insurance, and other monthly expenses that NEED to be paid.
Of course, during your spending freeze, you would still pay these bills, but you wouldn’t spend ANY money outside of these bills. (You can learn which bills are necessary and which ones aren’t, here.)
This means you wouldn’t go for any unnecessary drives, you wouldn’t go shopping (outside of grocery shopping), you wouldn’t go out to eat, or anything like that.
Doing a spending freeze is a great way to get into the swing of living on one income. Even though you’ll be going down from two incomes to one, if you do a spending freeze over that time you’ll save a good chunk of money – even though you’re living on less money.
When you do a spending freeze, you get to choose the amount of time that you do the freeze for. Some people like to start with a short spending freeze of just a week or two. You could challenge yourself and do a spending freeze for a month. Some people even choose to do a spending freeze for a YEAR.
While doing a spending freeze for a year would be a great way to save up a big chunk of money, you and everyone in your family would need a good amount of self-control to be able to not spend any extra money for an entire year.
While you’re starting out, choose to do your spending freeze for a shorter amount of time, something like two weeks to a month is enough time to help you save up a bit of money, but it’s also short enough that you can see the end of the freeze is near.
5. Cancel subscriptions
Any subscriptions you are currently paying for may need to be canceled. While you don’t want to cut everything out of your life, if you do want to learn how to live on one income without going broke, there needs to be some sacrifice.
Whether you have an online subscription or a magazine subscription you’re paying for, it is a good idea to cancel it for now. You might be able to get the subscription back in a couple months after you have gotten into the swing of living on one income and have extra money to spend every month, but for now, your best bet would be to cancel them.
Some people forget that they’re even paying for subscriptions anymore. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are currently paying for any subscriptions, look over your bills for the past 6 – 12 months (some subscriptions are billed monthly, while others are billed annually) and this will show you if you are paying for subscriptions.
6. Make homemade cleaning products
Rather than buying overpriced cleaning products from the store, you can start making your own cleaning products using ingredients you likely already have in your house.
I switched from store-bought cleaning products to homemade cleaning products several months ago, and I love that not only is it saving us money, but I never have to worry about running out of cleaner since I can make more whenever it’s getting low.
Although, you do need a couple things to get started with your homemade cleaners. You’ll need this, and then you’ll also need these. Then, after you have those two products, all you need is some good old white vinegar (and some lemons or citrus fruits if you want to infuse your cleaner to make it smell less vinegar-y).
If you don’t want to make your own cleaners, you can save money by purchasing discounted home cleaning products here.
7. Cancel gym memberships
If your family is currently paying for a gym membership, it might be time to cancel it. But, canceling your gym membership doesn’t mean you’re forgetting about your health.
There are plenty of at-home workouts that can be done with none to minimal workout equipment.
8. Pack lunches
If your husband works outside the home, rather than having him buy a lunch every day, start packing him lunch to take to work with him.
With the average price of eating out for lunch being $12.75, if you paid for that 5 times a week, that’s $63.75 a WEEK (which is about $255 a month) that could be saved.
If you don’t know what to pack your husband for lunch, you could pack him anything from sandwiches to leftover dinner. You can also find endless lunch ideas by doing a quick online search.
Packing a lunch will require a bit of extra time every evening or morning, but it is well worth the extra work when you realize how much money you’ll be saving every month.
9. Use the library
If you’re a bookworm and find yourself spending money buying books, it might be time to scale back on that habit.
I used to love buying books. And what that resulted in is a bookshelf of books that I’ve read once, maybe twice, sitting there collecting dust. While there’s NOTHING wrong with having lots of books (books are great), books can be expensive.
So the next time you want to read a certain book, rather than going out and buying it, go to your local library and see if they can order it in for you (this will also save you money in case the book doesn’t end up being as great as you hoped it would be).
10. Shop at thrift/discounted stores
My husband and I have started shopping at thrift stores for all of our clothing needs, and it has saved us hundreds upon hundreds of dollars a year.
We don’t buy many clothes, but when a new pair of jeans costs anywhere from $50 – $70, that’s way out of our budget.
Since we’ve started shopping at thrift stores, we can often find nice jeans that are in like-new condition for less than $10, sometimes even less than $5, which ends up saving us mounds of money over the course of the year.
We also bought all second-hand clothes for our baby, and we’ve been able to purchase all the clothes we will need for our baby (from newborn to 6 months) for $10. (That’s NOT a typo.)
Thanks to buy and sells and the Facebook marketplace, we were able to find big bags of baby clothes for CHEAP, and there were even a few people simply giving the clothes away.
Now that you’re learning how to live on one income and you’re going to be on a tight budget, learning to shop at thrift stores or off of buy and sells is a great way to help you stay on track with your budget every month.
11. Become a one-car family
While this won’t be an option for every family, if your family is able to get away with one car you can save a lot of money on insurance, maintenance, and fuel every month.
My husband and I had two cars when we got married, and we continued to keep them both insured for a couple months after I became a stay at home wife. When we realized how ridiculous it was for us to be shelling out all this extra money on insurance, maintenance, and fuel every month on a second car when I really didn’t need a car of my own to get around, we got rid of it right away, and we’ve been a one-car family ever since.
As I said, it won’t work for every family – but if you CAN make it work, it WILL save you a good amount of money every month.
12. Plan for emergencies
It’s important to remember that emergencies can happen to anyone, at any time. If you aren’t planning for emergencies, you could very quickly fall into debt, especially as a single income family.
That is why it is so important to continually be working on growing your emergency fund every single month. It’s not enough to simply put money in a savings account and call it a day. You should also be putting money into a separate emergency fund account that does NOT get touched unless it’s an emergency.
If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, using the spending freeze method we talked about above, then putting all the money you saved from the spending freeze into your emergency fund is a great way to get that account started up.
You can learn much more about emergency funds – and how much money should be in them – here.
13. Live frugally
Living frugally comes in many different ways, shapes, and forms, but it’s important that you adopt a frugal lifestyle if you want to effectively live on one income – even if that income is low.